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Shane (Finneas O’Connell) and Laura (Maggie Baird) share a moment in “Life Inside Out.” Courtesy photo
Shane (Finneas O’Connell) and Laura (Maggie Baird) share a moment in “Life Inside Out.” Courtesy photo
ArtsRancho Santa Fe

Film review: There’s plenty of life in ‘Life Inside Out’

Through the captivating presence of its two leads (real-life and on-screen mom and son) Maggie Baird and Finneas O’Connell, as well as the sincerity of its beautiful music selection, “Life Inside Out” goes to show you that what’s on the inside really does count.

It’s easy to forget that the key to discovering where you belong in the world, not to mention connecting with those around you, is what’s inside you. Because finding yourself is that first step to achieving happiness, the kind where its fulfilling truth doesn’t necessarily emerge in the way you’d expect it to.

“Life Inside Out” recognizes this indispensable virtue, yet neither patronizes nor overdoes its good intentions.

Rather, it allows the characters, story, and music, as well as the everyday world in which they live, to come into their own and speak for themselves.

That’s not to say it isn’t challenging for us humans to acknowledge that kind of wisdom, especially when times are tough.

For devoted mother Laura (Maggie Baird), life couldn’t be more difficult for her when trying to figure out how to help her youngest son, Shane (Finneas O’Connell), whose sensitive personality has made him a disappointment in his father’s eyes.

At around the same time, Laura stumbles across her old guitar and, while initially tentative, soon rediscovers her love for songwriting.

Even more, she decides to start attending open-mic nights at a local club, and brings Shane along for the ride.

In spite of the bumpy start, Laura begins to embrace her musical side and Shane finds himself unexpectedly at ease.

Amid their family’s various struggles and disappointments, both mother and son start to connect on a deeper level and understand a world that has proven difficult to navigate, especially when the latter discovers his own musical creativity after following the former’s lead.

The immediacy that director Jill D’Agnenica establishes in that opening scrap-booking party scene in which both Laura and Shane are not exactly in the best of places is the perfect foundation upon which the film builds its structure.

All the ingredients — initial mother-son dynamic, father’s disappointment in said son, etc. — are laid out on the table, ready to be utilized.

From that point onward, it’s a gentle step-by-step journey of interpersonal bonding through the absorbing power of music; special credit must be given to cinematographer Guido Frenzel, whose skill with the camera helps to capture the poignancy in both the one-on-one conversations and singing scenes.

Speaking of which, I appreciate the sincerity in the emotions each character goes through; no exaggerations exist whatsoever in “Life Inside Out.”

And the fact that D’Agnenica is more than willing to explore the upsides and downsides of family life helps to elucidate the imperfect nature of these characters, thereby strengthening the firm chemistry between mom and son.

As the dynamic between parent and child continues to grow, so does the music — both at the club where open-mic nights are held and from the home where the two leads reside. And I congratulate the remarkable quality of the film’s original songs (e.g., “Let’s Take it Slow,” “Call Me When”), as well as the inclusion of several actual singers and musicians to imbue the atmosphere with a welcoming sense of intimacy.

Above all else, the heart and soul of “Life Inside Out” are Maggie Baird and Finneas O’Connell; the two of them make a great team and do a wonderful job in highlighting the struggles in their burgeoning relationship as they try to understand themselves and others. And if you ask me, I think their actual mother-son bond makes this film feel all the more personal.

I strongly recommend you give “Life Inside Out” a chance, especially if you enjoy independent films, and I’ll have you know that the film not only starts off strong and remains that way throughout the middle portion, but also ends on a high note. Without giving any specific details away, I guarantee that what you witness between Maggie Baird and Finneas O’Connell throughout their musical journey will do more than just satisfy; it’ll touch your heart without going overboard with its message.

MPAA rating: Not rated.

Run time: 1 hour 42 minutes

Playing: In limited release